Al Maya Supermarket will launch its first gourmet food store in Dubai next month, hoping to entice the growing number of shoppers buying their groceries locally.
The supermarket chain has grown rapidly in the convenience store sector over the past three years. Along with its competitors Carrefour and Lulu, it is expanding new concepts into community developments.
"I can tell you, the growth and movement in sales [at convenience stores] has definitely given us the confidence to go forward," said Fred Watts, the director of operations at Al Maya Group. "We wouldn't have continued if we didn't think there was potential."
Al Maya will open a gourmet outlet in Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) as well as new convenience supermarkets in Liberty House at the Dubai International Financial Centre and one in Sport City.
The gourmet store is designed and modelled on an Italian concept and will sell high-quality cheeses, meats, breads, jams and olives. There will also be takeaway Italian coffee, ready-made gourmet meals and an organic section.
Al Maya has opened nine convenience supermarkets across the Emirates in the past three years and has 36 supermarkets in total, with a further four in Oman. The company's move into the convenience sector is being driven by Deepak Pagarini, the group's chief executive, who represents the second generation of the family-owned business.
"We have moved from a traditional supermarket to more of a convenience supermarket which has moved with the consumer," Mr Watts said.
"In other words, these lifestyle centres that have been set up in the likes of The Meadows and JBR, we've opened up quite significantly into those areas," he said.
Last week, Lulu expanded its convenience offering, opening three Express stores, with two in Dubai and one in Fujairah. The supermarket already has two convenience stores in Abu Dhabi, one in Al Raha Beach and another in Mohammed bin Zayed City.
V Nandakumar, a spokesman for Lulu, said the move was part of a growing strategy, but the company's primary focus would remain the larger hypermarkets.
"Lulu went for the big footprint first, I think they also realise that the future is not so much the big box format because the big players have positioned themselves well," Mr Watts said. Carrefour is also expanding and focusing on high-end quality produce in the convenience store sector.
The world's second-largest retailer, after Walmart, recently undertook a national rebranding of 16 of its Carrefour Express stores, which are being renamed Carrefour Market.
The company wants to change the customer perception about smaller convenience stores so that they are associated with fresh ingredients and choice.
Despite the growth intentions of many major supermarkets, the rate of expansion in the local convenience store market will be dictated by the UAE's multitude of property developments.
"It all depends what is going on with the real estate market and what projects are out there, that is going to dictate the pace of our movement," Mr Watts said.